Monday, December 26, 2016

I was at the governor's mansion for Hanukkah

I went home to Baltimore to see a Ravens football game and attended the Maryland Governor's annual Hanukkah party. Here is what I learned.
Happy Secular New Year.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Is Hilton Head the Golf Island. Is it the Caring Island too?

This is my most recent column from the Newspaper on what we on the Island are really about. This time of year at Thanksgiving should give us all some time to reflect wherever we live about our priorities. So how about take a read and let me know what you think? All the best
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Saturday, November 19, 2016

New Post from Rabbi Brad Bloom: Davar Torah on Genesis 19 and the Story of Sodom and Gamorah

There are many stories  in the Torah that leave us feeling more perplexed after reading them. The story of Sodom and Gamorah is one example from this week’s parashat vayerah in the book of Genesis. In a nut shel it goes like this. Two supposed holy beings come to see Lot, the nephew of Abraham. They want to stay with him but no one is sure what their purpose is for the visit. 

The word gets out about these two strangers and a group of townspeople surround Lot’s home and demand to see them. The Torah suggests that this crowd wants to rape the two holy men. Lot tries to protect them and offers these people his two daughters. The next scene is that the special holy beings tell Lot that God plans to destroy this city due to its corrupt nature and that they, Lot, his wife and their two daughters, have to leave immediately.

As they leave in a hurry they tell them not to look back over the town lest they turn into salt. Unfortunately his wife disobeys the warning, gazes back upon the city and she turns into a pillar of salt. Lot and his daughters flee to a town called Zoar. The daughters get upset that they have no men to be with and they decide to have sex with their father. So for two nights they give him wine and get him totally drunk and each sister has sex with him with the belief that he will be so drunk that he will never remember his sex with them the next morning.

Let me add one more bit of Torah here which is in the preceding chapter. God announces that these residents of the Negev desert communities Sodom and Gamorah are all wicked and that he plans to annihilate them. Abraham gets into a direct dialogue with God trying to convince him that if he can find fifty righteous people will God retract from his threat to destroy them? God says yes. Abraham says if I can produce thirty, or twenty or even ten righteous people will God relent on his declaration to destroy all of them? Each time God says, “Yes.” In the next chapter the story of Lot begins which I just summarized. Obviously there weren’t even ten and so God went about to destroy the citizens of Sodom and Gamorah.

Abraham shows how he is not afraid to challenge God on his judgement. Each time God agrees to his terms ,yet,  there aren’t simply those ten righteous  people to be found. This is not the first time God carries out a threat of destruction. We harken back to Noah and the flood. In this case Noah obeys God’s instructions to build an ark and never tries to challenge God’s decree to destroy all mankind. Noah’s silence stands in stark contrast to Abraham’s determination and guts to take on God in a debate. This is not so different from Moses who took on God who was about to destroy the Israelite people after the sin of the Golden Calf. There too Moses challenges God’s wisdom and convinces God to relent from starting over with Moses to form a new people. One could say that Abraham and Moses and other biblical figures show that it is acceptable to challenge God’s sense of justice. Again we see that God will change his mind when a powerful case is made on behalf of the Jewish people.

I find this appeal from Abraham to challenge God one of the most fascinating themes of the Torah; to witness how a human being can debate with God.  Why is this aspect of the story important for us? What can we learn about how a society turns against itself. And who is today that must be the one who challenges the status quo to preserve a good and decent society form turning against itself?
Judaism has had a series of biblical characters including the most famous  such as Job who challenges God for bringing so much disaster upon him by killing all who are near and dear to him. Jews have, ever since then, had a tradition of talking and challenging God when they thought God was not acting fairly towards the Jewish people.

Even today Elie Wiesel  taught how Abraham is a different kind of patriarch as compared to the passive and acquiescent Noah. Our best approach is not to say that God is wrong but to ask God to think about his decision. We have this ability respectfully challenge the holy one to rethink a position. In the story of Sodom and Gamorah, God agreed each time with Abraham to spare the citizens if he could produce the righteous people. In the end Abraham never did it and the rest of the story we know.
We are living in times today when we need to produce righteous people who can give credibility to a society like ours and cause us to question our own way of thinking about how we relate to others. Sometimes confrontation does work, depending on the issue. Yet when we can challenge someone to think through an issue, respect them even though we disagree with them we may have a better chance to influence their thinking,
 I know we tend to lambast elected officials as crooks. There is mistrust from the top of the elected leader ladder to the local school board. We have righteous people in this country and in the world. Today we are not just talking about elected leaders but folks who serve society in all sorts of capacities. It is not like we are arguing before God for our position to restore public confidence in our communities. We are, instead, arguing our position to the rest of the community which does sit in judgment upon us. Honesty and integrity are critical values that were not in existence in Sodom and Gamorah. They paid the price.

The rabbis said that when hatred divides a society against itself that society will not survive. Do we need a higher bar of moral conduct and integrity today? Do we also need, besides elected officials,corporate leaders and medical professionals, clergy and teachers and business owners to rise to an even higher plateau of leadership and honesty. We cannot be silent like Noah not even before God. As Wiesel said about the Jewish people which was that we speak truth to power even if it is God. We learn this lesson first from Abraham.

Sodom and Gamorah were communities that we should fear the most. It wasn’t a nuclear bomb or a biological disease that destroyed them. Despite all the pleading of a righteous man it was, in truth, simply baseless hatred and mistrust amongst themselves. A city of people who lost a vision of justice towards themselves and imploded. It can happen to any city, and in any country.

Keeping peace in the House of Worship after the Presidential Elections

My recent newspaper column on this timely topic. We have a right to our feelings about the election. Yet, should we respect boundaries in how we express ourselves inside the synagogue lest we go down a slippery slope and increase the chance of internal division? What do you say?
Have a Happy Thanksgiving.
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Choose your words wisely
I have heard quite few people say things about how blessed they are or the opposite about surviving Hurricane Mathew. Let's take a second look about what language we use to others when describing our own feelings.
What do you think?
Rabbi Bloom

Monday, October 24, 2016

A column to my colleagues about missing Yom Kippur

I published this blog at the CCAR website last week. I thought you might want to read it.
Your insights and reactions are appreciated.

Thoughts about Yom Kippur and Yizkor for a Congregation who did not have Yom Kippur this year.

A great teacher Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said; “In reverence suffering, and humility we discover our existence and find the bridge that leads from existence to God.”
It appears that our community has had the opportunity over the last two weeks to experience a dose of all these characteristics. We have been preoccupied whether it was with our own situation or with someone else’s condition that we care about. Did we take some time to contemplate what existence means and how our survival creates a bridge to gratitude and thanksgiving to the Source of Life itself? 

Yet there is another bridge we walk over this morning. It is a bridge towards memory of our loved ones who have passed away this year and in years gone by.Many over the last week  missed not reciting Yizkor for this Yom Kippur.  There are certain prayers and musical settings of the liturgy from the High Holy Days services that become the defining moments in which we all resonate with and look forward to reciting and hearing.For those of us who could not attend Yom Kippur somewhere else surely we missed not hearing the Kol Nidrei, Avinu Malkeinu, Yizkor, the confessions of transgressions and other cherished music and prayers.

That time has since passed and we are on our way to rebuilding our homes and even our spiritual selves. Because this is the time for Sukkoth, we already bid farewell to Yom Kippur. Yet, the tradition allows us a fortuitous opportunity to recover something we lost a week ago. The end of Sukkoth allows to hold a yizkor service on the 8th day. In fact we sponsor Yizkor services not only on the 8th day of Sukkoth but also on the 8th day of Passover and the 2nd day of Shavuot. Jewish law and custom prescribe  the observance of the eighth day in Sukkoth as a Yom Tov in the Diaspora and as an occasion to hold a Yizkor Memorial service. 

Now that we are, for the most part , returned to our homes we may also return to the memory of our loved ones. We are this morning combining the feeling of  Yom kippur yizkor and grafting it onto the Yizkor we traditionally recite at the end of Sukkot. It is our hope to replenish our memories with the loved ones whose names would have been recited from our Yizkor on Yom Kippur itself. We are pleased to provide you with the Yizkor book.

The end of Sukkoth, unlike the Day of Atonement, concludes a holy and joyous harvest festival. Now we call to mind our precious loved ones and invoke their memories within the community. We remember our beloved parents and relatives including our spouses, siblings, children, grandchildren, and cherished friends. We intone the memories of our mentors, teachers and national leaders. Let us not forget those who gave their lives serving and defending the United States of America and the martyrs of our people who over the many centuries gave their lives for kiddush hashem,the sanctification of the Divine Name.

In the book of Proverbs we read, “ner adonai, nishmat adam. The spirit within is the lamp of God Eternal” (Proverbs 20:2). We need that light to guide us over the bridge towards the past, towards the memories of loved ones we come to honor today. These memories have been patiently waiting for us to cross over the bridge and greet them, touch them with our prayers,  see them with the light of a broken heart or a wistful mind hearing their voices or feeling their hands upon us. With Yizkor can we draw the connection between our existence to our memories and tie them together with the spirit of the Eternal One?

I conclude with this prayer from our new Mahzor Mishkan HaNefesh
At birth, a miracle:
You light the spark in every human soul.

Emerging into light, we breathe it in-
the n’shamah, Your sacred gift of life.

And every day, every breath
comes to us as a miracle.

The light within us-unique and precious,
is  with us always, while we live.

when breath has ceased and life has gone;
the n’shamah returns to You.

And the spark that lived inside the ones we love,
unique and precious, beautiful and good,
is theirs no more.

Their light is ours; their radiance now turns in us
the eternal flame of memory.

So we light candles, to keep our love alive,
to bring their light into the world,

A light unique and precious,
ours to treasure, while we live;

A ner timid that lights our days
and gives us strength to journey through the nights.

Dear friends we journey today over the bridge of memory to capture what is still ours.
Hold onto these memories and do not forget them. Cherish them and the light of their memories will warm us in our days and our nights.


New Blog Post Rabbi Bloom: Hurricane Mathew and what we can do about it.

Hi Everyone.
Here is my most recent newspaper column on  Hurricane Mathew and its impact upon Hilton Head.
Take a read and tell me what you think?
All the best

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Reflections On Hurricane Mathew: Part One

When one is forced to abandon one’s home due to a hurricane or a natural disaster, it feels strange to walk around another community trying to be normal, engage in normal looking activities like eating in a restaurant, or engaging in normal pleasant conversation when seeing other evacuees from one’s congregation or community. It is almost surreal to inhabit the world of another town and all along one is thinking about what is going on in our community. What is happening to our house or the congregational facility we cherish? Congregational rabbis get geared up for being available to our congregants in their time of need especially if there is an unusual event. Yet, a hurricane? When did that come into pastoral care class at HUC-JIR?

For me this Yom Kippur was unusual to put it mildly. As a result of Hurricane Mathew, we in Hilton Head, SC had to leave our homes behind and find alternative accommodations in a short period of time. My congregants spread out throughout the region from Charlotte to Atlanta. Our family traveled first to Aiken and then settled down in Augusta, Ga. At first I happily ran into our congregant friends in Aiken but when we settled into the larger city of Augusta we felt we were on our own.
We kept in touch with congregants through social media. At first it was nice to see many pictures of folks enjoying themselves and touring the places they visited. We did that too. Yet, as Mathew rolled into the low country and Hilton Head, I started realize that all our plans and anticipation for Yom Kippur were going up like dust in the wind during a Israeli Humsin-desert wind storm. Yes I was concerned about our house and our congregants and I received many calls, emails and texts from congregants who were contending with all sorts of issues. I was grateful to receive calls from local and regional colleagues assuring us that there would be room for my congregants at their Yom Kippur services. I spoke to some colleagues who had experience with Hurricane Sandy and other colleagues who were dealing with Hurricane Mathew as well. 

 The truth is that throughout the weekend I was not ready to admit that we would not be in Hilton Head for YK. First I contacted our colleague Rabbi Shia at Children of Israel in Augusta for Shabbat Services. We had a great experience and were welcomed by him and the congregation. Even then I felt we would be able to return home. Saturday night we had dinner with our colleague Rachel Bregman and a few evacuees from Savannah. I started to feel optimistic again. The Hurricane, I wrongly believed, would veer off to the Atlantic and we would have a light brush of intense wind and rain and that would be the end of it. Not so. Man makes plans and God laughs, the Yiddish adage goes.

By Monday I could see that reports were that the hurricane would run over Hilton Head with a vengeance. Oh how it did. Rabbi Shia invited us to services and his president had us and some of our leadership over her house for dinner before Kol Nidrei. Shia invited me to sit on the bimah with him and deliver a few remarks. This was the first time I had not been on a bima as officiant for YK since I was ordained in 1984. I sat there for Kol Nidrei and spoke to the congregation. Shia provided me with an extra kittel and talit. He was the most gracious colleague one could ask for in this difficult time. A group of my congregants who evacuated to Augusta showed up and I felt that familiar surge of joy and happiness. I left with a good feeling even though I missed doing my thing as I would always do on YK. Sure, I missed all the congregants I have come to know and love. There was an emptiness in my heart,even though I was relieved no injuries had been reported and that was the most important thing. I received pictures of the trees falling down on my house with what appeared to be minor damage. The Temple was in good shape. I prayed to God on Kol Nidrei to give me the strength to keep my cool, my sense of humor and to keep my optimism.

Yom Kippur morning was a different story. A group of 200 folks from an independent living center in my community, Tide Pointe, were taken to a hotel in downtown Augusta. We have about 10 or so Jewish seniors there and so after meeting with them we decided to have a service for them. I  then called and spoke to our colleague Dan Medwin at CCAR and he gave me a brief tutorial to hold a live streaming service where anyone in the temple could download or call in and participate in the service. What a cool way for all our congregants who were not able to attend services to join us and be part of the virtual community! Admittedly I am a bit behind the times on the use of this kind of technology, yet, what we will do for our congregants when the need is arises!

Wednesday morning: Got up and showered. We went over to the Ramada Inn to conduct a small service. I saw the folks all ready to go. i promised them that I would give them an abbreviated service from shacharit to Neilah in one hour. We did it. These seniors were grateful and appreciative. We had a nice conversation during the services. We talked about their feelings at being dislocated and how they were treated at the hotel. They spoke about the times they were living in and expressed real concern that their grandchildren were vulnerable to the kinds of political instability and economic chaos over the last six years they have witnessed and what they remembered from the Depression days. I could see in their eyes the outrage when we broached the subject of the elections. Just guess about that one.

I have to say that I enjoyed doing the service for them. Yes it was a real mitzvah and I know it was holy work. I felt good about it. Yet, it was with mixed emotions when I thought about what I would normally be doing. Again these are not normal times. Something told me that I needed them more than they needed me.
This was not a normal Yom Kippur. The next thing I knew I was driving back to Aiken to pick up emmi since the vet hospital closed midday. I was in the vet office watching emmi much improved but still weak. We returned to Augusta and let emmi rest with Dia. Yom Kippur diminished in my soul when I found myself driving midday to Kroger’s and Lowes to get the materials for food and shelter stuff before our return to Hilton Head on Thursday. Truly by 5:30pm I was still fasting and exhausted. One last push and we returned to Children of Israel in Augusta to finish Neilah. There we were  sitting in the back row. Very weird for me to sit there instead of being on the bimah. The rabbi did a fine job and with joy and celebration and the congregation dancing in the sanctuary we ended the service and went to into the social hall for a break the fast meal.

The folks in this congregation were fantastic and I think we made some new friends. Many of them own property and have condos in Hilton Head. I hope they will come worship with us when they return. Some of me mourned  not being on my bimah for the holy days. It was admittedly hard to get that loss out of my system. Yet maybe there were new lessons and I shall deliberate on them before writing further.  I’m concerned like everyone else about my own house and the trees on them or on the ground. My mother always says, “This too shall pass.”
We will also see how emmi fares in the next week or so. God be with her either way it plays out in her health. Dr. Jay Jones was a great vet for us and his staff at the Ark vet hospital went above and beyond.
 I am anxious to deal with the house issues and get the process of removal and clean up underway. I want to be there for my congregants and help them in any way I can. I want to be on my bimah to show that life goes on and we as a community will rebuild brick and mortar and our spirits too. This is what I do. This is how I feel. The truth is that I felt highs and lows helping my congregants this time and I know that the long term effects of this hurricane are yet to be felt. We as a community, not just at Beth Yam, but in the entire Hilton Head need hope and healing.

More to come

Sunday, October 9, 2016

New Blog Post from Rabbi Bloom: Hurricane Mathew and forgiveness for Yom Kippur
Here is my recent newspaper column. I hope it brings some perspective for this year's Yom Kippur.
I wish all my congregants who are scattered around the region as a result of Hurricane Mathew. May it be God's will that return shortly to our homes and community to rebuild and heal. Hope is always on our side. Forgiveness is even more important now than ever be3fore.
G'mar Hatimah Tova

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Welcoming our New Student Cantor: The blessing and challenges of the Cantor

Tonight I depart from the Torah portion in order to focus on the arrival of our new Student Cantor Daniel Geigerman. Daniel, like his predecessor Nancy Dubin, is on his journey beginning his studies at the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Daniel completed his first year of study in Jerusalem along with Rabbinic and Education students. It feels like an appropriate opportunity to remind ourselves not only about the history of cantors in Judaism but also the challenges for today’s cantors in the progressive movement.

Let’s begin with a little bit of Jewish history. First, the hebrew term for the cantor is hazan. Some may call the cantor shillalah tzibor meaning the representative of the community in prayer to god. Up until modern times there was no ordination of cantors. The code of Jewish law (Orach Hayyim 53), edited in the 16th century, set out some criterion for someone to be called hazan or cantor. The cantor should be without sin,  He should be modest. He should have a pleasant voice. He should be at least 13 years old.

It is important to understand that Judaism has a great tradition going back to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem of instrumental music and choirs. As I mentioned at the start of the service, the Levites provided the music including great choirs. Yet all of that changed when the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70CE. At that point musical instruments were forbidden in synagogue worship as a symbol of national mourning. This applies  to this very day in Orthodox services on Shabbat or the Yom Tovim. The Levitical choir was gone. So in order to preserve the ancient melodies and chants the role of the cantor became more prominent and important.

The sages knew that since all that was left were prayers it was critical to have the shalichah tzibor be able to reach the congregants with music even without instruments. In addition Judaism had a tradition of piyyutim or poems that also required singing as well. The cantors were the only ones left to preserve this literature with their singing and chanting to touch the souls of synagogue worshippers.

The cantors then led the way in developing cantillations for chanting the Torah, responsive singing of the psalms, and the rest of the liturgy.Back then as today, the Cantor not only simply sang these melodies, but, they interpreted them and adapted music from secular music in the regions they lived for their congregations. We call that body of chanted traditional music nusach.
As we approach the centuries leading up to the modern era, Jewish composers arose and composed music that integrated the traditional music with  new compositions for the synagogue liturgy.

It was not until the 19th century that we see, with the rise of Reform and Conservative Judaism, a much greater emphasis on composed synagogue music and cantors who were trained by secular and Jewish experts in liturgy. These synagogues instituted major changes in the synagogue service including an organ and a shabbat choir in which the Cantor worked with to beautify the services with hebrew and the vernacular. This was unheard of until recent times.

Composers like Lewandowski in those days provided the template for reform cantors to this very day. By the time we are well into the 20th century we have full time cantors sharing the duties with the rabbis in terms of education in the religious school. I remember in my home congregation years ago the cantor was the director of the religious school. That was not an uncommon model for cantors during this time period.

In the latter part of the 20th century as the music trends continued to change and synagogue music adapted to the times, the seminaries began to admit women into the cantorial programs first in the Reform movement and then later on in the Conservative seminary. We moved away from the traditional nusach music and blended the classical composers of earlier generations with contemporary composers and  folk music introducing the guitar.  Today the reform movement requires every student to exhibit proficiency in playing guitar.

In earlier times we listened to the cantor and expected to sit down and simply listen to an operatic voice that would engulf the entire congregation. Yet, that trend changed too from listening to participation. Engagement has now become the credo of today’s cantors because congregations want their cantors not just to mesmerize them with the beauty of their voices but to engage their worshippers to sing along with them. That stylistic change marks a major development in today’s liturgical scene.

We all know of the trend of bringing music composed at the URJ Camps into our liturgical music portfolio. This is how someone like Debbie Friedman, of blessed memory, became such a major influence on progressive Judaism and conservative Judaism as well. So today’s cantor has to balance between preserving the traditional chanting, the classic composed music and the more informal and participatory folk style music in the synagogue. It is not an easy task.

Cantors also have expanded not only their repertoire of music but also their duties in the Temple. They are working side by side with rabbis providing pastoral care as well as special music concerts and programs. They teach classes and work with b’nai mitzvah students, both adults and children. There is much more that cantors do in the life of the synagogue.
Cantors are just as aware of the issue of time for their music as are rabbis with their sermons. The code of law says that if the cantor lengthens the service because it is from his sincere desire to bring the congregation closer to god then it is acceptable. If it is so only so that the congregation should simply hear his beautiful voice then it is a transgression.
In his article The Vocation of the Cantor Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “The cantor who faces  the holiness in the Ark rather then the curiosity of a worshipper will realize that her or his audience is God. The cantor will realize that his task is not entertain but to represent the people Israel.  He will be carried away into moments in which he will forget the world, even at times ignore the congregation and be overcome by the awareness of God whose presence he stands.  The cantor will hear and sense that the Cantor is not giving a recital but worshipping God, that to pray does not mean to listen to a singer but to identify oneself with what is being proclaimed in their name.”

It is, therefore, an engagement of mind and body that begins with the cantor’s spirit in music and causes us to sing with the Cantor with all our emotions and spirit. That is the challenge for the cantor and the blessing for us if we attune our hearts and souls to his.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The pilgrims and the Indians: A paradigm for peaceful coexistence? What is the real story?

Here is part two of my series on the Pilgrims. All I can say is that the stories we heard growing up about the pilgrims and the Indians does not resemble the facts as primary documents and history written about these groups has reported in the annals of research and history writing. Take a read and tell me what you think?
Rabbi Brad Bloom

New England journey to the Pilgrims and the Puritans.

This is one of two posts on the history of Pilgrims and Puritans in New England.  I traveled to Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard and learned a great deal about the impact of their traditions on religion in American history. Take a read and tell me what you think.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The risk of repealing the Johnson amendment for clergy speaking on endorsing political candidates and parties.

There has been some controversy surrounding some people's call to repeal this historic amendment to restrict clergy and non-profits from endorsing political candidates and parties. Read the article and tell me what you think?
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Sunday, July 24, 2016

All lives matter

I wrote this column regarding the recent killings of police and citizens. How do we mourn and remember both who lost loved ones? Hatred is what we must condemn on all sides. This is the side people of faith should take.
What do you think?
Rabbi Bloom

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The South Carolina Constitution must change to eliminate religious tests for the Governor

Here is a recent newspaper column I wrote about how technically the Governor of the State must profess a belief in God. Is that right? Is it legal?
What do you think?

On the religious symbolism on the dollar bill

I find it interesting to see how the founders and modern political leadership in America used religious symbols to create legal tender in our culture. What is your view?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Monday, July 4, 2016

Reflections on the recent passing of Elie Wiesel

Like most American Jewish youth of my time we heard about Wiesel.  He was the iconic Holocaust survivor. I knew he was a man to be respected, but, I did not connect with his writings as a young adult. My process of discovering my connection to Wiesel began when he gave his speech accepting the most important medal a civilian can in America from President Reagan. His speech appealing to Mr. Reagan to skip the invitation to lay a wreath at Bitburg cemetery was unforgettable. When he said, "Mr. President your place is with the victims and not with the SS," I felt chills down my spine.

Yet it was not until four years later after I had arrived in Champaign, Illinois to take my pulpit that  I would go on a journey to learn about Elie Wiesel. I credit that journey to Rabbi Isaac Neuman, the rabbi emeritus of the congregation, a Holocaust survivor himself and a friend of Wiesel. We talked about Wiesel and Isaac slowly picked out books by Wiesel for me to read. They were not books strictly on the Holocaust per se but his works on Talmudic and Hasidic teachers. His essays and his articles were part of my education as well. I felt drawn into his world and by studying the sages and his theological writings I saw the broad scope of his vision about humanity as well as his grief for his family and the entire Jewish people. I can honestly say that Elie Wiesel has been one of the most important thinkers that have influenced me in my overarching view of Judaism.

I believe no other Jewish scholar has excelled in revealing and teaching Jewish texts, rejuvenating our imagination to memory of the Jewish past and been a beacon of light towards social justice and respect for human life. When it comes to God, Wiesel opened up a door to engaging God despite the torrent of views from within the Jewish community who denied the existence of God after Auschwitz. He never gave up on God even though he questioned and challenged God. It was always from a position of trying to ask questions even though he never received the answers he sought out in his quest to understand the mystery of evil.

Wiesel said, "Questions are more important than answers because we all can share the questions of good and evil." For me Wiesel taught me to probe, test, and challenge assumptions but from within a faith perspective. That was the genius of Wiesel. I can say that I have tried to do do the same in my own way when I read a text from the Bible or from the Hasidic masters or from the Kabbalah. He taught me how to bring their stories into my spiritual bloodstream. For that I will forever be indebted to him.
 Finally, he taught us all by example that our role as Jews was to be a witness to the Holocaust and to injustice around the world. God said to Israel, "You are my witnesses. Know me therefore and put your trust in me." That is what I have tried to do and it is because of Wiesel that I embarked upon that journey.
I will be writing and speaking about him throughout the upcoming year and he deserves that tribute. Jewry owes Elie Wiesel a debt of gratitude for all the good he accomplished and for the man he was.
May his memory be for blessing.

Rabbi Brad Bloom

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The South Carolina Constitution and the religious test for Governor.

Hi everyone, I found this bit of history fascinating and I hope that the wise legislators can clean up the state Constitution and make it correct that no religious tests are required of its governor. If the elected officials can solve this issue, maybe that would be a positive sign that legislators can actually work together on more substantive issues. Tell me what you think.

Rabbi Bloom

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The value of writing a thank you at religious events.

I see this issue all the time and I am one of those who could do better and be more conscientious on this matter. I hope you read it and give me your thoughts.
Happy Shavuoth.
Rabbi Bloom

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Let's be careful when we discuss religion with those from other faith traditions.

My most recent newspaper column provides a few tips about discussing religion and setting boundaries regarding what  is appropriate and what is not legitimate dialogue. There is nothing wrong about discussing differences. Let's learn how to do it in a way that is a learning experience as compared to a getting immersed in a diatribe. What do you think?

Friday, May 13, 2016

National Prayer Day-Can America offer one prayer for the good of our nation?

Shalom to everyone. Here is an interesting tradition that we have one day devoted to prayer for the nation on May 5th this year. Here is my take on the holiday and my own effort to create a prayer for us all.  What do you think?
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Saturday, April 23, 2016

My visit to the reform congregation in Gedera, Israel
I have published this drash on Passover that was published on Friday by the World Union of Progressive Judaism. It goes out to reform congregations all over the world. I hope you find it interesting as I retell my experience spending shabbat with the reform congregation in Gedera, Israel. I hope all my Jewish friends had a great Passover.
All the best
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

New Blog Post from Rabbi Bloom: The Righteous Among the Nations

While Passover is almost here I am writing about the connection between the lessons of the Passover experience and the forthcoming Yom Hashoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day. My focus is on the the importance of acknowledging the role and contribution that Righteous Gentiles played during the war years in saving Jewish lives.  Our congregation's theme this year is about the Righteous Among the Nations which the state of Israel established to honor those risked there lives to save Jewish lives. Tell me what you think?
Have a joyous and happy Passover.
Rabbi Bloom

Friday, April 15, 2016

Series on Pesach and its connections to the Holocaust: Part One. Let the youth decide.

There are lots of connections between the lessons of the Holocaust that can be extended to the ancient Exodus. As we prepare for Pesach, our youth have to learn how to face difficult truths. Is it right that we shield them from the essential facts of the Shoah? What is your view?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A conversation in the Old City of Jerusalem: Small alleyways can lead to peace.

This newspaper column recounts my conversations with a group of Arab shopkeepers in the Old City of Jerusalem. The religious diversity of this walled city, its history and its future captivates me. Take a read and tell me what you think?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Part Two in the series on Israel

This is the 2nd installment on my newspaper column reports from Israel. Enjoy the read and let me know what you think?
Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bloom in Israel: Working on diversity amongst religions.

This is a part of a three part series of articles I sent from Jerusalem during my recent stay. I was in Israel leading a congregational mission and then afterwards participated in a conference of progressive rabbis. Thanks for taking the time to read it and your comments are always welcome.
Shabbat Shalom,

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Report: First day of Israel trip

First Day Report”
My Dear members of CBY,
We have spent our first official day in Israel. We arrived Sunday evening and our group went to have our welcome meal at a fantastic Yemenite restaurant. This was our moment to begin to get acquainted  as waiters brought out to us scores of dishes from Israeli salads, main courses and desserts. There is never lack of eating in Israel.Everyone introduced themselves and we reaffirmed our commitment to getting to know each other over the next ten or so days. 
Monday morning.
We are staying at the David Intercontinental hotel in Tel Aviv across from the beach. We visited Independence Hall where David Ben Gurion signed the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948. We strolled through the lively Carmel outdoor market where everyone got lunch and other goodies. One of the highlights of the day was our trip to the Palmach museum. Remember the Palmach? This was, in pre state days, Israel’s elite strike force that defended this soon to be brand new  nation. Yitzchak Rabin was  in the Palmach too. The museum and the video performances were stirring and helped us all feel the gut wrenching drama of Israel’s fight for survival and its determination to be victorious despite long odds from the Arab armies. I could see and feel that the exhibits along with the video portrayal of what life was like in this days had a significant impact upon the group.
Afterwards we went to Jaffa and learned the history of this ancient town.  I have included pictures of these experiences.The shops and the ambience is reminiscent of the ancient world as well as indicative of the new increasingly modern world where in Jaffa Jews and Arabs are learning how to live together. 

We topped it all off with a unique experience for dinner at the Jewish Libyan tradition eating a favorite called Shakshukah. We had a great meal everyone was joyful and happy from this culinary experience from Middle Eastern design.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

What do you say to a child when they ask, "What happens after I die?"

I began this article from a memory with my daughter when she was a child herself. I believe this is an important and eternal question that all people have to confront at various ages in life. This is an issue where there is not a clear cut answer. It is a gray issue. Sometimes we find ourselves in the gray zone when it comes to thorny issues of religion and mortality. Tell me what you think.
Rabbi Bloom

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Turn off your cell phones when you go into public worship!

My most recent newspaper column is about cell phones in public worship. Haven't had enough of them going off in the middle of services? When will folks learn to be more respectful? Take a look and read more about it. Your reaction is greatly appreciated. Shalom,

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Torah Portion of the Week: Exodus Vaera. The Torah teaches about the strategy of negotiations between Pharaoh and Moses,

We are living in a time of great negotiations. We have watched with anxiety recent negotiations between the United States and its allies with Iran over nuclear weapons. The president recently concluded negotiations over climate control with the world’s nations. Just getting combatant nations in the middle east together to discuss a cessation of hostilities in Syria seems like an impossible task. Then there was the Asian Pacific Trade Agreement. European nations negotiated with Greece over its debt to the EU, and, finally, the negotiations within the EU over how to handle the flow of refugees into Europe from war torn Middle Eastern Countries. Negotiators will tell us that getting to an agreement sometimes requires divine intervention. 

The Torah portion this week narrates a classic case of negotiations between Pharaoh and God’s instruments of his divine will Moses and Aaron. The portion consists of a kind of record, in Scriptural terms, of the negotiations under which Moses compels Pharaoh to release the children of Israel from their 400 year bondage and Pharaoh becomes increasingly embittered and fearful of the consequences of the plagues brought down upon Egypt. What is fascinating about this account is how the Torah describes each party’s part in the negotiations, God establishes his credentials with Moses and Aaron as the same God who promised to their people’s ancestral patriarchs the land of Canaan. Then God was known as El Shaddai or God Almighty. Now God tells Moses and Aaron that God’s name is Adonai. 

Moses shares his trepidations that the Israelites might not believe in him since he is a man of uncircumcised lip or most likely a speech defect. When it comes to Pharaoh, we have the most interesting person in this narrative.The Torah shows his public side as the God figure of Egypt. Yet the text says several times that God hardens the heart of Pharaoh which is a metaphor that he becomes more stubborn and self destructive each time that Moses demonstrates his God given powers to bring forth plagues. Privately Pharaoh sees that strength and fears it. While his heart is hardened with pride and his belief in his own infallibility, he can see the superior power of Moses’ God and the mighty plagues which his own magicians cannot overcome.

Pharaoh says to Moses and Aaron, “I have sinned this time; the lord is righteous and I and my people are wicked.” Even though he knows he is on the wrong side and that the Israelite God is God and that he has been the cause of great suffering on his people, he cannot let go of his pride or his position of power. He says, “I have sinned.” We can feel Pharaoh’s inner conflict which comprises the unresolved crisis of confidence, faith and real politick. He knows that if he gives in it will be viewed as a sign of great weakness. So he is, in a sense, boxed in politically.There is no other way for this story to work out except for the devastating final plague of the death of the first  born. That plague and all the rest of the plagues gave him enough cover to send them free in order to protect Egypt. 

That is what always makes a negotiation difficult. It is about contending with those who are watching for the symbolic victory and for the show of strength. There are hard liners on all sides pressuring the negotiators to get the deal that gives them the victory. The idea of win-win is a defeat for the hardliners. Furthermore the Torah tells us that personal issues always play a role in a negotiation. The character of one party and the individual integrity of the parties is always an important component.

Today the art of compromise or as some experts call it ‘getting to yes,’ is the standard goal in business or intra government negotiations. Yet beneath it all it is about personal issues. It is never just business. The personal element of how to negotiate and who has the leverage interweaves with the negotiator’s personality and with the business of the negotiations. Pharaoh taught us that lesson. Even at Temple or in other non-profit volunteer institutions conflicts arise that call for negotiated settlements. There too pride and hardened hearts can exacerbate long time relationships and impact the future of the institution itself.
This month, for example,  we shall commemorate Martin Luther King’s life and there too we see a similar kind of power negotiation that the civil rights movement engaged in with local and state authorities, particularly but not exclusively in the South. Entrenched power circles do not give up power even when they know that what they are doing is wrong. That is the same lesson from Pharaoh.   We know that Moses is afraid that he is not a worthy spokesperson for his people or for God, yet, he follows his orders. His effectiveness is that stays on track and is true to his principles. He knows he is God’s instrument and this negotiation is not about him as compared to Pharaoh who believes it is only about him!

Pharaoh’s main problem is his internal struggle to always be infallible or be right all the time. His public dilemma is playing to his constituents. In that way he is a captive of his own fears. Do not think for a moment that world leaders do not contend with the same internal or personal demons when they sit down at  the negotiation table with other world leaders. 
Life is not that different with negotiations even in the life of a temple or non-profit organization. As I have said about Temple, “it is always personal.” Yet, I believe that the story of this negotiation teaches us that conflict resolution demands that we take the moral high ground if we want to secure a long term solution to a problem. Conflict resolution means remembering why we are involved in a discussion. Furthermore staying focused on the  real purpose of  trying to resolve a conflict is key in balancing the short term and longterm objectives. 
This is why Moses succeed and why Pharaoh failed. The other  lesson is that it does make a difference to have God on our sides after all!

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Prayer and what to do about Middle East Refugees

Here is a recent newspaper column about the spiritual dilemma regarding what to do about the refugees. I know it is political issue. There is a spiritual dimension to this vexing issue. I'll be interested in reading your comments.

Thanks and may 2016 be a happy and healthy one for us all.
Rabbi Brad Bloom